THAI looks at plan to delay flights until Aug 1

THAI looks at plan to delay flights until Aug 1

Thai Airways International and THAI Smile planes are grounded on the tarmac at Suvarnabhumi airport. (Bangkok Post photo)
Thai Airways International and THAI Smile planes are grounded on the tarmac at Suvarnabhumi airport. (Bangkok Post photo)

Thai Airways International (THAI) has admitted it is looking to delay yet again the resumption of scheduled flights to Aug 1 although this is only a plan, said airline board member Pirapan Salirathavibhaga.

Mr Pirapan said the plan was being studied by the airline's commerce department and it would help the company prepare better in case the ban on international flights, imposed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) to contain Covid-19, is lifted.

His remark came on the heel of media reports citing a THAI source who disclosed the airline would resume scheduled flights from Aug 1, a month later than originally planned.

According to the source, the flights will restart over three days from Aug 1 through to Aug 3 with reduced services to fewer destinations.

While Mr Pirapan confirmed the Aug 1 resumption was on the drawing board, he stopped short of validating details of the reportedly "watered down" flight schedule.

For example, flights to Singapore, which THAI operated several times per day before Covid-19 forced the airline to ground all of its flights in March, will be reduced to four per week. Similar cuts are also expected for flights to high-traffic cities including Tokyo, the source said.

The source added THAI will not resume flights to Italy, Moscow, Vienna, Oslo, Stockholm, Sapporo, Fukuoka, Sendai, Kathmandu and Colombo, although it is still not clear if the routes will be closed permanently.

Mr Pirapan also said on Thursday a decision about when THAI is able to return to the sky will not be unilateral and it will be made based on issues that are beyond the airline's control.

For example, the extent of global containment of Covid-19 and border restrictions applied by countries the airline flies to also need to be taken into consideration.

Mr Pirapan is a former justice minister and one of the latest additions to the THAI board drafting the carrier's debt rehabilitation blueprint after the Central Bankruptcy Court (CBC) agreed to examine THAI's rehabilitation petition. The court has set the first hearing date in August.

The airline, saddled with 244 billion baht of outstanding debt, has sought protection from courts in several countries to keep creditors from impounding its assets including aircraft. Currently, 31 of its aircraft are on financing leases and another 39 are on operating leases.

Mr Pirapan said that before THAI resumes service, it has to think about passenger traffic post-pandemic.

He insisted now was not the right time to resume flights and experts agree that the industry remains highly volatile because the pandemic is still wreaking havoc in many countries.

Mr Pirapan added that restarting flights now is unlikely to generate any profit.

"THAI is ready to fly again but the company can only do so when there are enough customers to make the business viable," he said.

He added the airline prioritises passenger safety and its balance sheet and that THAI will study issues carefully before making a decision on when the flights should resume.

Meanwhile, airlines are expected to lose US$84.3 billion (2.6 trillion baht) for a net profit margin of -20.1% in 2020, which has been dubbed "the worst year in the history of aviation", according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Revenues will fall by 50% to $419 billion from $838 billion in 2019, according to the financial outlook for the global air transport industry released by IATA. Asia-Pacific, which was the first region to feel the brunt of the Covid-19 crisis, is expected to post the largest absolute losses in 2020.

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